Saturday, December 27, 2008

NYT Misses the Mark on Gas Tax

The New York Times had an editorial in today's paper about how to reduce gas consumption in a time when its price is falling. Their thinking goes that as soon as the recession ends, folks will go right back out and start buying gas guzzlers again--apparently even if the Big 3 fail, Toyota will fill the demand for SUVs and the like. We'll all be right back where we started, and fuel-efficiency will take a back seat yet again. Their answer? Tax it: 

Who will buy all the fuel-efficient cars that Detroit carmakers are supposed to make?

The danger is that too few will, especially if gasoline prices remain low. Therefore, it might be time for the president-elect and Congress to think seriously about imposing a gas tax or similar levy to keep gas prices up after the economy recovers from recession.

...This also would serve as a signal to American automakers and American drivers that the era of cheap gasoline is not going to last.

That'll teach those selfish consumers not to use so much gas! 

Look, I totally agree that we have to encourage drivers to use less gas. The problem with a tax is that not everyone has the option of waiting for a bus or hopping on the metro. In places like the Southside, public transit is virtually nonexistent and it is very common for people to commute 60-100+ miles round-trip every day just to find work. Moving is often impractical, and will become even more so as a result of the mortgage meltdown. Moreover, such workers and families often cannot afford to buy a new car--if you're a victim of multiple factory closings and you're swimming in debt from years of paycuts and missed bonuses, you drive what you can afford, and you keep driving it until the wheels fall off. A national gas tax would be a betrayal of small towns and rural communities all across America. Not only is that bad policy, it's morally unconscionable. 

Instead, let's tax gas guzzlers at the source (Deep breaths, Jim Gilmore). Put a hefty fee on the low-mileage cars and trucks currently on the market, and enact stringent environmental and MPG guidelines for newer cars. The money earned could be put toward tax credits for fuel-efficient cars or used in infrastructure projects. The stimulus package could also address this issue--if you trade in your old SUV, the federal stimulus package will match, up to a reasonable limit, your down-payment on a cleaner vehicle. It sure beats taxing people who can't afford it and throwing money at Wall Street.

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